At the risk of belaboring my point, I wanted to return to this topic, the subject of a post a few days ago. It’s engendered a lively discussion (which is always gratifying) and I wanted to bring a couple of points back up to the top of the column, as it were.
I encourage you to read the original post so you have an idea of what the case at hand is. You can also read the news account here.
First I wanted to reiterate my original point, because I think only one of the commenters responded to it. Stories like the one here circulate within the lesbian community. For lesbians who are considering parenthood and deciding between a known and an unknown donor, they are cautionary tales. They add weight to the unknown donor side of the scales. (I don’t think any of these statements are particularly controversial, but if you think they are, by all means let me know.)
What that means is that stories like these make it somewhat more likely that lesbians will choose unknown donors.
Now while it’s possible to be indifferent to this result, I know that a number of readers here are anything but indifferent. And to the extent I’ve become sensitized to the issues around use of unidentifiable donors, I think these are concerns worth thinking about.
What could you do if you wanted to remove or at least blunt the pressure to choose an unidentifiable donor? Note that the law in California is already fairly supportive of the lesbian parents–the donor is not a legal father. So the problem isn’t (just) the law. It’s the cultural assumption that the donor is really a parent and so whenever he wants to come in and pick up that mantle he can push the lesbian mother (who isn’t really a parent) out of the picture.
Now why is the donor seen as really a parent while the lesbian mother is not? Two reasons, I think, though ultimately I believe they are related. First, he’s genetically related and, as you can see in comments on this blog, many people will insist that this makes him a father no matter what role he does (or does not) play in the child’s life. Second, because he is male, and since the children already have a mother, what they need is not another mother but rather a father.
This leads me to say that if you want to stop discouraging lesbians from choosing unidentifiable donors, you actually need to play down the “biology is the root of parenthood” point. If we do that, then people can choose a known and involved donor and not worry that whenever he chooses to, he can insist on parenthood.
I think saramaimon is the only commenter who responded to this concern on the first post. I hope it is fair to say that she took a longer view–that while in the short run insisting on the primacy of biology might have the result I describe, in the longer run it might be beneficial. (I hope that is a fair summary–and I apologize if it is not. Feel free to correct me.)
But it seems unlikely to me that, in the long run, most lesbians are going to decide they’d really prefer to parent with a male co-parent. They might want a man to be involved in a non-parental way–but this is exactly what the biology argument makes difficult–if the man is there, he’s the parent.
One last note–about the role of sex/gender in this case. I do think it matters.
Imagine this hypo. A and B are a heterosexual couple. B is male, but sterile. So A and B use C, a friend, as a donor, in order for A to become pregnant. A child is born and A and B act as parents. At some point, A and B separate. A ends up in a relationship with C. Does C automatically get to displace B and become the father of the child because, after all, he’s genetically related?
This is the same story as the real one, of course, except I’ve made B male instead of female. I think the story has a different feel and that many people would respond to it differently. Just something to think about. I’ve gone on long enough today.